Promoting Domestic Tranquility

For the past twenty years, my day job has involved providing legal representation to children in cases of abuse and neglect. If you must be a lawyer, this is a terrific way to go about it. My clients are regarded as having problems rather than being problems, and it’s the court’s job to solve those problems as best it can, with limited time and resources.

I go about this work as an independent contractor to the State of Maryland, and periodically, the State competes the work to ensure the taxpayers are getting the best bargain for their money. I won the contract through the competitive procurement process, and I’m prepared to lose it the same way.

Fair is fair, and twenty years is a long time to labor in any one vineyard.

And yet, there’s a part of me that thinks, “I have learned so much in the past twenty years, I’m better at this gig than I’ve ever been before. I know the players, I know the rules, I know the rhythms and rituals. I AM the best bargain for the taxpayer’s nickel, and oh, by the way, I’m a single mom with a kid still in college and could really use the steady paycheck.”

We’ll see what the universe says to that. Meanwhile, the idea that I could have a lot more unstructured time has given me an opportunity to poke my head out of my prairie dog hole, look about me, and see my immediate environment with new eyes.

New, not very impressed eyes. I’ve been living in the same small, rural house for almost twenty five years, and I’ve shared this place with one daughter, and a herd of cats, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, white rats, birds, fish, and once I found a possum helping himself to the dog food in the kitchen (at 3 am, oh-what-a-night). Having horses on the same property didn’t exactly contribute to a manicured look.

House beautiful, it ain’t.

If a door to the legal profession is closing, then of course, I want to write full time, but I have to ask myself: If I’m going to be working from home, how can I make this space optimally conducive to writing wonderful stories? The house itself is a 150+ year old log cabin with addition. It has character, but needs charm. My first step in the direction of preparing for a career change was to rent a roll off dumpster.

Dead clothes, ancient romance novels, defunct CD players, hamster wheels that won’t turn (note to self: excellent metaphor there), ribbons from some horse show ten years ago, broken Christmas lights… “Kill them all, Mr. Smee!”

It feels good to purge—also a little scary—but then what? How do you make the place you live more than just a long term campsite without it becoming a time and money suck too?

To one commenter below, I’ll send an audio version of Richard Armitage reading Georgette Heyer’s “The Convenient Marriage.”

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27 comments on “Promoting Domestic Tranquility

  1. Grace – after almost 15 years of an outside office I moved my office home in June 2012. Fresh paint is not expensive, but what I enjoy the most in my office is a picture that gives me a glimpse of a perfect garden. The office layout home does not give me the brook I looked out on for my years away yet the picture can take me away from my urban neighborhood. Your location means you can set your desk to view the great outdoors. A place like Michael’s can provide silk flowers to gaze on in the dead of winter.

  2. You’re right, Martha. My property is pretty. In some ways I’ve taken better care of the land than the dwelling. I go a little nuts with bulbs each fall, and twenty years of a “a little nuts” means daffodils and tulips out the whazoo, irises popping up all over, hydrangeas taking over the stream banks, and so on.

  3. Work can take place anywhere. As your upcoming bounty of books can attest, you ‘ve been able to work wherever your home office is. That being said, the one thing that had eased my transition home is making time to get out of the office and connect with others or else being at home can feel very restricted (and I really like working from home!)

  4. My office space is very much an urban location, though I am not an urban-loving person. While comfortable and homey it is still a small condo in a city. Oh, how I yearn for a more rural locale. If not rural, then a bit less urban. My office window looks over an alley between buildings and is not up to the task of inspiring creativity, be it writing, sewing or scrap booking.

    So I took simple steps to improve my view. My walls are painted a rich, warm color and one wall has dark wood shelves filled with books of all types and genres. My work table faces the window (yes, the one overlooking the alley) and I have a comfortable chair and throw blanket for reading. The lighting is warm and I have a stack of books with printed photos of my favorite places. When I need a little escape, I can always flip them open and imagine myself in exotic, foreign lands. My favorite photos, I have made into posters and hung on the wall as makeshift windows to inspire my creativity.

    But my favorite feature is the window film I purchased. It is a photo printed on transparent static film that clings to the window. It allows the light to filter through and still provides a nice “view” when I sit at my desk. Right now it shows me a summer day with lovely, full trees, flowers and a pond. Now that the California weather is FINALLY starting to cool down, I will change it to a fall scene of trees in all their autumn colors. The glory of the static film is that they are easily changed with each season.

    Until I move to a less urban setting, this makes for a wonderful and comfortable work space.

    • Never heard of such a thing as static film, but it sounds like a wonderful idea. I do have some stained glass, including a custom window I had made for my office–three doves, quite peaceful, but not cheap.

  5. At the age of 19 I moved into my very own studio apartment near the ocean. My budget was pretty tight so any decorating had to be inexpensive. The best thing I did was string strands of little white lights across my wood beamed ceiling. I had a hammock chair that hung in the corner and many an evening was spent swinging and looking up. Those lights transformed my cramped little space into a magical first place.

  6. Coffee.
    I hate my office (I’m in a workerbee cubicle with no frills), but a good cup of coffee makes it survivable (well, that and Pandora).

    But if I *were* to work from home, I’d want to have the following:
    – good lighting
    – a view that was enjoyable without being distracting (I am, after all, ENFP, meaning I am easily distracted)
    – good wifi, so I can move my workspace to a different room if necessary
    – my bird in a different room, so she’s not as disruptive (conures can be annoying)
    – my North Shore RR poster in a prominent location, reminding me that I can get away if necessary
    – and good coffee

    Finally, I’ve always wanted to live in your house. Well, not YOUR house necessarily, but an old log house with your landscape…wanna trade?

    (And I’m ready for another fix…)

    • William, I have a framed pen and ink drawing my older brother did was he was sixteen, but it’s not exactly riveting after all these years. Might have to find something else?

      And yes, OK, as soon as I have an MS ready to go, you will be the first to beta read it. Eve and Deene insist.

  7. Hey Grace…

    I contemplated the question and with all honesty have to say, I never did get used to any of my ‘dwellings’ after my divorce.

    I’m happily married now, and we made the house he lived in since a teenager a very cozy home, yet it still doesnt ‘feel’ like my own…I’m not sure why…maybe because some of the furniture is still his mom’s [she left us her home after she passed]?

    But then that can’t be it either, because I lived in the apartment after the divorce and even with my own furniture, the space didn’t feel right…maybe because I didn’t have the kids around me, the noise I was used to in the morning and the laughter in the afternoons after they’d walk in after school…

    For whatever reason and after many ‘purgings’ I still feel that I am only a temprary ‘dweller’ in the spaces I call ‘home’…

    Crap! I think I need a shrink now!


    • Melanie, I realized after some contemplation of my own that I do attach to places, passionately, but not necessarily to dwellings. I love my stream, my barn, my huge maples, the view of the mountain behind my house, my yard… the house is part of it, but not the heart of it. And it isn’t any of it really mine, but it’s mine to love.

  8. Some immediate, practical thoughts:

    1. One room per year (or a quarter, depending on your budget and timetable) … and stick to it. It’s way too easy to fall into the trap of one thing leads to another. Set limits for each project.

    2. Don’t be afraid of color. Paint is relatively cheap, so experiment a little. Home Despot lets you take home many samples for a little bit of money, relatively speaking. Find a piece of art, a textile (rug, upholstery, quilt), or something that appeals to you from the get-go and start there for a palette.

    3. Have fun. There’s really no right/wrong to decorating. Invest in some home-makeover magazines for ideas, if needed.

    Enjoy the process!! KB

    • There are six rooms in my house, if you count the bathroom, but your schedule is reasonable, particularly if I consider that “doing” a room isn’t free, if the furniture is considered, and the art. Thanks!

  9. I only have one decorating “must” to offer…surround yourself only with stuff you love. If it isn’t “matchy-matchy”, then all the better!! I have one of my mother’s dresses she wore when she was about 4yrs old hanging as my laundry room decor. Makes me smile everytime I look at it. A beautiful pice of jewelery (bought from a garage sale) makes a pretty piece of artwork when tacked onto a fabric covered picture frame back. Surrounding yourself with just a very few things you love, will make any place you live, yours. I have moved over 30 times in my life. I know this to be true.

    • Tracey, somewhere along the way, somebody told me that when I’m on Right Path, the regalia of that path will come to me. People will give me the crown and scepter so to speak that go with heading in the right direction. That guidance stuck with me, and seems to resonate with what you’re saying. The right touches are genuine, symbolic, and full of love.

      I keep a big pine cone from my brother’s ranch on my writing table, a Renior print my sister gave me on the wall, a mug my agent sent me, and so forth. It is NOT matchy-matchy (love that!), but it’s all me.

  10. Grace I’m afraid I can’t be of much help in the decorating as I’ve lived in rentals most of my life. I’m somewhat unusual in that I prefer my walls & the ceiling to be white and the color to come elsewhere.
    From the description of your home, log with an addition, I’d go with “country” style. For color go with those you love, not something someone tells you is the current “in style” color.
    Just do what calls to you in your heart, and good luck!

    • Molly, because it’s a log cabin, the walls are THICK, and that means light has a hard time getting in. White walls and ceiling might be just the thing for this place, and in something over than a flat, matte, finish.

  11. Pinterest is an amazing site. I could get lost on there for hours just looking at ideas. My suggestion is to set up a few boards and just pin everything that catches your eye. Soon you will be able to see some patterns in your pins and you can narrow down the “ideas” into things that work for you. I have found that I LOVE built-ins and bead board. I have plans to add some beadboard wainscoting in my bathroom one of these days. One tip I learned a long time ago when picking colors. If you have a dominate pattern in a room, pick a color that is in the pattern, but is one of the minor colors. Paint your wall(s) that color. It looks very coordinated without being “Matchy-matchy” and if your cant get it the exact shade, it’s not nearly as noticeable.

  12. I am not much of a decorator and I can’t be bothered too much about interior, even in my own house. I feel I am not creative or artful and don’t have a hand in decoration.

    What I do is trying to keep the rooms tidy and clean (not easy with 3 kids and a husband who just drops things as they appear-and then asks me where they are…-). Usually, when it is just too much of a mess, I take the time and have a big tidying up and throwing away – you HAVE to get rid of things sometimes, as in our consumer society items just pile up constantly… I am rather heave-ho in that regard.

    As for decoration, I go with feeling. When I feel like adding something or changing something, I do it, even if it is unorthodox but I/WE (!) like it (who else lives in our house than us?). I like colored walls (restraint), many plants and pictures or items that call memories (that mostly is what makes living in rooms liveable to me). Not too much of that stuff of course, for I don’t like it overloaded and kitschy.

    To my shame I have to admit, that living in my house for 2 years now, I still haven’t any pictures/paintings on the walls, but I don’t feel it being “naked”, as other items, colored walls and many plants make it cosy – not to forget the people who live in it with me!!!

    • Connie, I love your use of “heave-ho” as an adjective. It’s not that I like having stuff, it’s that I’m afflicted with the “save it for a rainy day” gene. A lot more saving has gone on in the past twenty years than rainy-daying.

  13. Well we’ve lived in small rentals that can’t be painted for many, many years, so I don’t have much to offer. But your comment about your flowers made me wonder if you’ve taken photos that you could enlarge and frame. 😀

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